It has often been said that we are living in unprecedented times politically. Unfortunately, with everyone so firmly planted in the trenches of their respective “teams,” ready to throw social media insults at the slightest offense, people rarely stop to question the systems that keeps them in this perptual state of animosity. In Jon Stewart’s political satire Irresistible, it is the nations’ obsession with the constant cycle of elections and political punditry that serves as the kerosene fueling the partisan fire engulfing America.
The destructive nature of this political sphere is best personified in Democratic strategist Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell). Assuming he had the 2016 election in the bag, Zimmer got a rude awakening when Donald Trump pulled off one of the biggest upsets in recent years. Looking for a way to penetrate the “forgotten people” of middle America, Zimmer finds a glimmer of hope in a viral video of a retired Marine Colonel, Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), giving an impassioned speech to his small town’s council. Believing that Hastings embodies the values his party needs to loosen the Republican Party’s vice grip on rural America, Zimmer sets out to convince the veteran to run for Mayor of his town.
Only agreeing to challenge longstanding Mayor Braun (Brent Sexton) if Zimmer runs his campaign, Hastings soon finds himself thrown into the unrelenting and costly political machine. A mechanism that only gets bigger and more vicious when Zimmer’s Republican strategist rival Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne) gets wind of the election. Quickly flooding Mayor Braun’s campaign with plenty of cash, and willing to use every trick in her arsenal to win, Brewster helps to turn the once quiet mayoral race into a national event.
As with many political comedies, Irresistible walks a fine line between satirizing the systems it opposes and perpetuating the stereotypes it aims to skewer. By setting the film within rural America, we are meant to care for a specific type of American. Hastings lives in a predominantly white town, one that has been stricken by poverty. As a result, individuals care more about policies that impact the hiring of seasonal immigrant workers than they are about the workers themselves. These are the seemingly simple and well-meaning folks who cannot quite navigate a voters’ phone list.
While Irresistible generates plenty of comedy from the juxtaposition of Zimmer’s big city zeal and Hastings small town values, its best moments come when throwing satirical jabs at the absurd amount of money and political spin that goes into year-round campaigning.
Zimmer and Brewster take such glee in their political game of one-upmanship that they frequently lose sight of actual causes their camps are fighting for. As Stewart’s film notes, at the end of the day, one side is always spending to supposedly start change and the other side is spending to stop it.
The absurdity in the political tactics utilized is nicely encapsulated in Carell and Byrne’s amusing performances. Byrne is deliciously devilish as Brewster, bringing much needed edge and outlandishness to the film. As enjoyable as it is to see Carell and Byrne spar with each other, Irresistible does not quite reach the heights it could have. Stewart’s film takes a lot of big swings but does not always land its punches.
Irresistible lacks the scathing vigour needed to put it on par with other memorable political satires like Bob Roberts, Wag the Dog or the mini-series Tanner ’88. The film will not necessarily move one’s political needle, but Stewart does succeed in making us reflect on the nature of political cycles and our complicity within it. In these politically charged times, Irresistible offers some comedic food for thought that will entertain those on both side of the aisle.